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Chapter 21

What Tod thought of all this was, perhaps, as much of an enigma to Tod as to his three brothers, and never more so than on that Sunday morning when two police constables appeared at his door with a warrant for the arrest of Tryst. After regarding them fixedly for full thirty seconds, he said, "Wait!" and left them in the doorway.

Kirsteen was washing breakfast things which had a leadless glaze, and Tryst's three children, extremely tidy, stood motionless at the edge of the little scullery, watching.

When she had joined him in the kitchen Tod shut the door.

"Two policemen," he said, "want Tryst. Are they to have him?"

In the life together of these two there had, from the very start, been a queer understanding as to who should decide what. It had become by now so much a matter of instinct that combative consultations, which bulk so large in married lives, had no place in theirs. A frowning tremor passed over her face.

"I suppose they must. Derek is out. Leave it to me, Tod, and take the tinies into the orchard."

Tod took the three little Trysts to the very spot where Derek and Nedda had gazed over the darkening fields in exchanging that first kiss, and, sitting on the stump of the apple-tree he had cut down, he presented each of them with an apple. While they ate, he stared. And his dog stared at him. How far there worked in Tod the feelings of an ordinary man watching three small children whose only parent the law was just taking into its charge it would be rash to say, but his eyes were extremely blue and there was a frown between them.

"Well, Biddy?" he said at last.

Biddy did not reply; the habit of being a mother had imposed on her, together with the gravity of her little, pale, oval face, a peculiar talent for silence. But the round-cheeked Susie said:

"Billy can eat cores."

After this statement, silence was broken only by munching, till Tod remarked:

"What makes things?"

The children, having the instinct that he had not asked them, but himself, came closer. He had in his hand a little beetle.

"This beetle lives in rotten wood; nice chap, isn't he?"

"We kill beetles; we're afraid of them." So Susie.

They were now round Tod so close that Billy was standing on one of his large feet, Susie leaning her elbows on one of his broad knees, and Biddy's slender little body pressed against his huge arm.

"No," said Tod; "beetles are nice chaps."

"The birds eats them," remarked Billy.

"This beetle," said Tod, "eats wood. It eats through trees and the trees get rotten."

Biddy spoke:

"Then they don't give no more apples." Tod put the beetle down and Billy got off his foot to tread on it. When he had done his best the beetle emerged and vanished in the grass. Tod, who had offered no remonstrance, stretched out his hand and replaced Billy on his foot.

"What about my treading on you, Billy?" he said.

"Why?"

"I'm big and you're little."

On Billy's square face came a puzzled defiance. If he had not been early taught his station he would evidently have found some poignant retort. An intoxicated humblebee broke the silence by buzzing into Biddy's fluffed-out, corn-gold hair. Tod took it off with his hand.

"Lovely chap, isn't he?"

The children, who had recoiled, drew close again, while the drunken bee crawled feebly in the cage of Tod's large hand.

"Bees sting," said Biddy; "I fell on a bee and it stang me!"

"You stang it first," said Tod. "This chap wouldn't sting--not for worlds. Stroke it!"

Biddy put out her little, pale finger but stayed it a couple of inches from the bee.

"Go on," said Tod.

Opening her mouth a little, Biddy went on and touched the bee.

"It's soft," she said. "Why don't it buzz?"

"I want to stroke it, too," said Susie. And Billy stamped a little on Tod's foot.

"No," said Tod; "only Biddy."

There was perfect silence till the dog, rising, approached its nose, black with a splash of pinky whiteness on the end of the bridge, as if to love the bee.

"No," said Tod. The dog looked at him, and his yellow-brown eyes were dark with anxiety.

"It'll sting the dog's nose," said Biddy, and Susie and Billy came yet closer.

It was at this moment, when the heads of the dog, the bee, Tod, Biddy, Susie, and Billy might have been contained within a noose three feet in diameter, that Felix dismounted from Stanley's car and, coming from the cottage, caught sight of that little idyll under the dappled sunlight, green, and blossom. It was something from the core of life, out of the heartbeat of things--like a rare picture or song, the revelation of the childlike wonder and delight, to which all other things are but the supernumerary casings--a little pool of simplicity into which fever and yearning sank and were for a moment drowned. And quite possibly he would have gone away without disturbing them if the dog had not growled and wagged his tail.

But when the children had been sent down into the field he experienced the usual difficulty in commencing a talk with Tod. How far was his big brother within reach of mere unphilosophic statements; how far was he going to attend to facts?

"We came back yesterday," he began; "Nedda and I. You know all about Derek and Nedda, I suppose?"

Tod nodded.

"What do you think of it?"

"He's a good chap."

"Yes," murmured Felix, "but a firebrand. This business at Malloring's--what's it going to lead to, Tod? We must look out, old man. Couldn't you send Derek and Sheila abroad for a bit?"

"Wouldn't go."

"But, after all, they're dependent on you."

"Don't say that to them; I should never see them again."

Felix, who felt the instinctive wisdom of that remark, answered helplessly:

"What's to be done, then?"

"Sit tight." And Tod's hand came down on Felix's shoulder.

"But suppose they get into real trouble? Stanley and John don't like it; and there's Mother." And Felix added, with sudden heat, "Besides, I can't stand Nedda being made anxious like this."

Tod removed his hand. Felix would have given a good deal to have been able to see into the brain behind the frowning stare of those blue eyes.

"Can't help by worrying. What must be, will. Look at the birds!"

The remark from any other man would have irritated Felix profoundly; coming from Tod, it seemed the unconscious expression of a really felt philosophy. And, after all, was he not right? What was this life they all lived but a ceaseless worrying over what was to come? Was not all man's unhappiness caused by nervous anticipations of the future? Was not that the disease, and the misfortune, of the age; perhaps of all the countless ages man had lived through?

With an effort he recalled his thoughts from that far flight. What if Tod had rediscovered the secret of the happiness that belonged to birds and lilies of the field--such overpowering interest in the moment that the future did not exist? Why not? Were not the only minutes when he himself was really happy those when he lost himself in work, or love? And why were they so few? For want of pressure to the square moment. Yes! All unhappiness was fear and lack of vitality to live the present fully. That was why love and fighting were such poignant ecstasies--they lived their present to the full. And so it would be almost comic to say to those young people: Go away; do nothing in this matter in which your interest and your feelings are concerned! Don't have a present, because you've got to have a future! And he said:

"I'd give a good deal for your power of losing yourself in the moment, old boy!"

"That's all right," said Tod. He was examining the bark of a tree, which had nothing the matter with it, so far as Felix could see; while his dog, who had followed them, carefully examined Tod. Both were obviously lost in the moment. And with a feeling of defeat Felix led the way back to the cottage.

In the brick-floored kitchen Derek was striding up and down; while around him, in an equilateral triangle, stood the three women, Sheila at the window, Kirsteen by the open hearth, Nedda against the wall opposite. Derek exclaimed at once:

"Why did you let them, Father? Why didn't you refuse to give him up?"

Felix looked at his brother. In the doorway, where his curly head nearly touched the wood, Tod's face was puzzled, rueful. He did not answer.

"Any one could have said he wasn't here. We could have smuggled him away. Now the brutes have got him! I don't know that, though--" And he made suddenly for the door.

Tod did not budge. "No," he said.

Derek turned; his mother was at the other door; at the window, the two girls.

The comedy of this scene, if there be comedy in the face of grief, was for the moment lost on Felix.

'It's come,' he thought. 'What now?'

Derek had flung himself down at the table and was burying his head in his hands. Sheila went up to him.

"Don't be a fool, Derek."

However right and natural that remark, it seemed inadequate.

And Felix looked at Nedda. The blue motor scarf she had worn had slipped off her dark head; her face was white; her eyes, fixed immovably on Derek, seemed waiting for him to recognize that she was there. The boy broke out again:

"It was treachery! We took him in; and now we've given him up. They wouldn't have touched US if we'd got him away. Not they!"

Felix literally heard the breathing of Tod on one side of him and of Kirsteen on the other. He crossed over and stood opposite his nephew.

"Look here, Derek," he said; "your mother was quite right. You might have put this off for a day or two; but it was bound to come. You don't know the reach of the law. Come, my dear fellow! It's no good making a fuss, that's childish--the thing is to see that the man gets every chance."

Derek looked up. Probably he had not yet realized that his uncle was in the room; and Felix was astonished at his really haggard face; as if the incident had bitten and twisted some vital in his body.

"He trusted us."

Felix saw Kirsteen quiver and flinch, and understood why they had none of them felt quite able to turn their backs on that display of passion. Something deep and unreasoning was on the boy's side; something that would not fit with common sense and the habits of civilized society; something from an Arab's tent or a Highland glen. Then Tod came up behind and put his hands on his son's shoulders.

"Come!" he said; "milk's spilt."

"All right!" said Derek gruffly, and he went to the door.

Felix made Nedda a sign and she slipped out after him.


John Galsworthy